Thursday, April 29, 2010

Regarding bus schedules and communication

Rebecca Torres
Albuquerque Transit Department

Dear Ms Torres,

You know, some days go better than others. For example, let’s look at today.

I ride the #1 bus north on Juan Tabo in the morning, and transfer to the #5 on Montgomery Blvd going west. Now, at the time that I do this little maneuver, the #1 bus is supposed to arrive at the stop at 7:06 a.m., I get off and walk about 50 feet, and the #5 pulls up at 7:10. It’s a good system, but since there’s only 4 minutes between them, I realize that things might go wrong. I’m understanding that way.

For example, yesterday, when the #1 didn’t pull up to Montgomery until a little after 7:30, I didn’t get particularly upset. Stuff happens. Admittedly, that was the second time this week that stuff had happened, but sometimes, I’ve found that it’s just not worth getting upset.

However, this morning, as we were pulling up to the light on Montgomery, and I watched the #5 cross the road while we were still 50 yards away, that made me a little unhappy. But I stood up and walked to the front of the bus, and asked the driver if he could let me off there, figuring that I could dash across the street and maybe catch it anyway.

And when the bus driver informed me that he couldn’t do that because he would get written up, I accepted that; it might be true. I didn’t say a word. But then, when he followed that up with “I heard what you said back there,” it is always possible that I might have gotten tense.

You see, I had apparently let an impolite expletive escape my lips when I saw the bus go by. It was rude of me, and I apologize for it.

But you know, it is entirely possible that I cursed twice more at that point. Once, when I asked him if he was actually going to try and berate me for an accidental utterance caused by his inability to follow his own schedule. And as I got off the bus, when I suggested that he should have a nice fucking day.

And to be entirely honest, I might not have made that last suggestion, if he hadn’t informed me that I should probably take another bus from now on. Thinking about it, I’m relatively sure that it was at that moment that I felt I should contact you and ask you to have a talk with that particular individual.

I didn’t get his name, but I’m sure that you have the ability to discover who was driving the #1 bus northbound, which would have left the Wenonah and Tramway Park and Ride at 6:46 a.m. (and since that’s only 10 minutes before they’re supposed to pick me up, I’ll admit that I’m a little confused that they so consistently fail to arrive at my stop on time, much less manage to drive less than three miles north).

And when you have that little talk with him, after you suggest that he might want to follow the assigned schedule a little more closely, you could point out that the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States grants us the freedom of speech. I mean, looking at him, it’s been a decade or three since he went to school, and he might have forgotten that little fact.

But more importantly, if you could suggest that there are times when he might not want to make a bad situation worse, I would take that as a personal favor.

Thank you for your time.

Update (5/5/2010): So, this morning, I sent this one, and copied the next person on the seating chart, who happens to be Executive Assistant to the Director, Doreen Delacruz. I'm starting to wonder how long this is going to go on. There's only two more layers of supervision over there, and the second one is the mayor.

Ms Torres,

Regarding the email below, I note that you haven’t yet responded to me. I hope that would be because you’ve been swamped and haven’t found the time to do so.

Really, that’s kind of a shame. (Remember that last line, about not making a situation worse? Yeah...)

I was waiting at my stop to my usual time (6:57 a.m.). And as the bus approached (four minutes late, incidentally, so it was 50/50 whether I’d be making the transfer anyway), I saw him through the windshield. Same driver as on Thursday (whose name, for reasons which should become obvious, I still don’t know). And he saw me. He was, in fact, looking directly at me, completely deadpan. As he drove past without stopping.

See, I get on the #1 bus at Juan Tabo and Mountain, the first stop north of Lomas. It’s a fairly open piece of road, with an empty Pizza Hut parking lot behind me. So even if he hadn’t been looking at me, it would be difficult for him to claim that he hadn’t seen me.

I’m curious. Is this considered acceptable by the Albuquerque Transit Department? For small-minded, judgmental drivers to vindictively decide whether a customer will be riding his bus, based on the fact that his virginal ears were assaulted on one instance with unpleasant language?

I’m not a particularly vindictive person, and fortunately I didn’t have an early meeting this morning. I’m not going to make some unreasonable demand that he be fired – if nothing else, in this economy, it would be extremely hard for him to be hired anywhere else, especially at his age.

However, I would appreciate it if I didn’t have to deal with this kind of behavior any more. Perhaps they’re looking for drivers in the South Valley?

I’ve been a customer on your buses for several years now. I normally have a good relationship with the drivers. In fact, the next bus (which did, in fact, stop for me – bus number 314, on route #1) was driven by Carl, and I have nothing but good things to say about him. He knows that I’ve got an iffy transfer to the #5 bus, and he consistently calls ahead for me without being asked.

I don’t think that it’s unreasonable of me to be a little unhappy about this. I called 311 and explained to the operator what had just happened – the report number is 5704092. I would appreciate a response this time. My telephone number is (redacted).


Update (5/6/2010): And so, this morning, I sent another e-mail. This time, I copied both Ms Delacruz, and the Director of ABQ RIDE, Bruce Rizzieri. (That's what they call it - Ay Bee Cue Ride, all in caps. They even have their own Wikipedia entry.) You know, most people get normal hobbies...

Dear Ms Torres,

Thank you for calling me back yesterday afternoon. I appreciated hearing from you. However, I still have an issue – technically, I suppose, the same issue, but as it is ongoing, I felt I should give you an update.

After yesterday’s experience, I walked two blocks to the Lomas bus stop, where other passengers were waiting as well. One of them, an older gentleman named Robert, has been riding the same bus that I have for about two years now, and, while we were waiting, we got to talking about my fascinating experiences of this last week. He thought they were unusual, too.

Sensing that this wasn’t going to go well, I courteously allowed everybody else to board before I got on. And the driver set his brake and informed me that I was going to have to ride another bus.

I stayed friendly. Admittedly, mostly because it was roughly what I expected. But, to make this easier on you, I asked him his name. I thought his response was fascinating, though. “I’m not going to tell you.”

That seemed like an interesting answer, so I verified with him that I’d heard him correctly. To which he said “That’s right. But there’s the bus number.” And he pointed at it behind me.

So, admittedly, while I didn’t have his name (and I apologize for adding to your workload, but I’m afraid that you’re going to have to look it up), but this all occurred on Route 1, bus number 308, at 6:58 a.m.

While I was writing this down, he informed me that I needed to get off, because the other passengers needed to get to work. Still writing, I suggested that I did, too. And I verified that Robert had heard our little exchange. (He had, but looked uncomfortable – I don’t think he likes confrontation.)

So, when I finished writing, I politely informed him that since, as he had pointed out, the other passengers did, in fact, need to get to work (or school, in many cases, but I suspect that very few of the students would be depressed at being delayed), I wouldn’t hold things up any longer. As I got off, our anonymous bus driver told me that he was going to make sure that I couldn’t ride any buses from now on.

Now, here’s my question. Have you, in fact, given bus drivers the ability to unilaterally decide that paying customers are no longer allowed to be passengers? That seems like a self-defeating policy to me. What, for example, do you do when some self-important moralist decides to he doesn’t like an otherwise nice guy like me?

I mean, admittedly, after 21 years in the military, I have a stubborn streak (you may have figured that one out already), but I’m told that I’m remarkably friendly.

If, in fact, this ability to ban passengers does exist, I’m sure that there must be a hearing process for reinstatement, and I should probably request such a hearing. Either way, though, I really was hoping to get some resolution on this issue.

Thank you for your time.

Update III: The Final Chapter (?) (5/11/2010): Now, yesterday morning, I noticed that the bus drivers had all changed routes (which they do periodically). My first thought was that, since the Transit Department knew this was coming, they were just using the Power of Positive Indolence to make the problem go away.

But then, at 10:00 this morning, I received my first written response. Gotta say, it was more heartening than any other part of this process.

Mr. Minnich,

I have reviewed the videos from April 29th, May 5th, and May 6th to see exactly what happened with this Bus driver. For the incident on the 29th, the driver did as he was trained and should not have left you off the bus on the south side of Montgomery. I apologize for him running late and you missing your connection but drivers are only allowed to stop at authorized stops.

On May 5th, it was obvious that the driver passed you up at your bus stop and this issue is being addressed. Drivers do not have the authority to pass up any passenger at any location. As far as I’m aware, the driver did not receive the authorization from any Supervisor to do so either.

On May 6th, when you attempted to board the bus at Lomas and Juan Tabo, if the driver felt that you boarding the bus was going to be a safety issue, then he should have contacted a Supervisor or Security to have you removed. Based on what I have seen on the videos, you may have been upset about what has happened to you but you don’t appear to be a safety issue to this driver.

As I said earlier, these issues with the driver have been addressed and hopefully should not happen again. I would like to arrange to have a Supervisor meet you on the bus when you ride the next time to make sure that everything goes smoothly. If you can let me know when that will be, I will get it all set up.

If you have any questions, please let me know.


Danny R. Holcomb
ABQ Ride Customer Service Manager

I actually hadn't known until yesterday that there were that many cameras on the buses. Then I noticed the forward-facing one by the door, and asked the (new, and somewhat chatty) driver about them - he pointed out about 3 more. So there I am, backed up by the taped evidence.

Seeing this whole scene ending with me, fully vindicated, riding off into the sunset, I responded to Mr Holcomb.

Mr Holcomb,

Thank you for getting back to me.

It looks like the drivers have all changed routes, so, unless he stayed, I don’t see where I’m likely to have a problem any more. (The power of positive passive-aggressive behavior, I guess – if I’d just been patient, it all would have cleared up anyway.)

I’ll admit that I’m a little concerned that this driver might easily treat other people this way – possibly somebody not as willing to make waves (which, you might have noticed, isn’t an issue for me).

Thanks for taking care of this.

And within ten minutes, I had another response (though the mills of justice grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small):

Actually, this driver took the same bid, which means that he will be on the same route 3 times a week. This is why I would like to get everything resolved once and for all.

Danny R. Holcomb
ABQ Ride Customer Service Manager

And then, an hour later, I had a phone message, from yet another Transit guy named Leo Cordera, who chatted with me for a while, and told me that he'd be on that same bus on Thursday (since I wasn't riding tomorrow) to ensure that everything was settled.

So, like somebody said once, we shall see what we shall see...


Suicidal Jane said...

Any response yet?

Nameless Cynic said...

Well, as a matter of fact, I got a call from Ms Torres just a couple of hours later. She informed me, with just the barest edge of curtness, that I hadn't requested a response in my first email, and she'd processed it like she was supposed to.

She didn't seem to feel that customer service was really her job, and that there was no reason for me to have been anything but obsequious to her. After all, she was a government employee, while I was just a common citizen.

(You know, I seem to recall having taken a few classes while I was a government employee, in a slightly higher paygrade than she is, where we were supposed to pay attention to these "quality efforts," which would lead to this thing called "customer service." I thought it was funny at the time - I was a cop. Was I supposed to ask their permission before I cuffed them? But apparently, state employees didn't take the same classes as federal employees...)

Suicidal Jane said...

You may or may not have gotten banned from ABQ ride. That has to take some sort of talent.

A couple years ago I shared a bus with a man dressed in full civil war, confederate army uniform (complete with flag). He got picked up at the bus stop, and was allowed to ride the bus to his stop. So it's okay for him to offend everyone on the bus with his fashion declaration of "I love slavery", but you can't say a few bad words and have a bad attitude.

Very, very interesting.

Nameless Cynic said...

See, that's the weird part. It's just the one driver. The rest have no problem with me. So we'll see what happens...